I am back from my first ever yoga retreat and it was amazing! But mostly in ways I never expected. I had pictured days filled with physical exploration — learning new postures, finding more space in my body, fine tuning my form. And some of that did happen. But mostly it was an internal exploration — finding better control of my breath, opening my mind through meditation, and finding a way to look inward and find peace and ease waiting there. Pretty heavy, huh? And in some ways it was, but in other ways I had never felt lighter.
At the start, I was like a fish out of water. The yoga was very different from my normal Bikram practice, with new postures and a flow style. This I expected. But it was also very different in texture and tone, which surprised me. For example, the lack of mirrors threw me. How could I know if I was properly aligned if I couldn’t see my body? There was also so much choice! In Bikram we all move together, doing the same postures for the same durations of time. But here, you could do a downward dog or a child’s pose at the end of a flow sequence. You could go through a vinyasa on the way to downward dog or not. And everyone was doing this at their own pace! How was I supposed to know which postures to do and how long to hold them? And the use of the props felt like cheating.
But I decided “when in Rome,” and so I did it their way. I tried to feel my alignment with my hands rather than see it. I sometimes chose the downward dog and other times the child’s pose depending on how I felt. I moved at my own pace or just copied the pace of whoever looked like they knew what they were doing. And I had no choice but to use the props, as some of the postures were inaccessible without them.
As the week went on, I got more comfortable with it all, and the soreness in my muscles told me I was getting the physical benefits of this new practice. In particular, I felt a big change in my ability to access and utilize the muscles in my core and shoulders. I am excited to apply that to my Bikram practice!
But the biggest transformation for me on this retreat came in the most surprising place — final savasna. These were not the final two-minute savasnas of my Bikram practice, but long and textured affairs with breath work and visualizations. True meditations. Fascinating and altering.
Of course I hated them at first. Laying on my back on a hard wood floor breathing in silence with twenty other people for up to 30 minutes was just not my idea of a good time. I felt AWKWARD! It was just SO quiet. My stomach started to gurgle. I started sweating. I could not find my breath. I kept having to swallow. I also felt lazy. Why had we stopped doing the “real” yoga only to lie here and do nothing? I could not quiet my thoughts so I could not pay attention to what the teacher was guiding us to do. That was the first night.
The next morning, I knew it was coming, so I was more mentally prepared. I set up a blanket on my mat like the other yogis had, so I was more comfortable. I forced myself to listen to the teacher’s words rather than my own panicked musings. I felt the breath moving in and out of my body more calmly. I tried to look inward and visualize the energy and light they were discussing. It didn’t work all that well, but I felt more relaxed at the end of it. That evening it went a little better. And then a little better the next morning. I remembered — it is a practice.
As my body stopped fighting it, my mind opened to it. I began to notice a new feeling of alertness and calm after the savasna/meditation. I started to actually like it and the more I liked it, the more open to it I became. By the end of the week, I looked forward to the final savasna and other meditation sessions at the retreat! My mind had been stretched. So much, in fact, that I plan to continue exploring meditation at home to see if I can incorporate it into my daily life.
Fellow yogis, is meditation an important part of your yoga practice?